thomas m wilson

Remembering Another China in Kunming

March 29th, 2017

Last weekend I headed out for a rock climbing session with some locals and expats.  First I had to cross town, and while doing so I came across an old man doing water calligraphy by Green Lake.  I love the transience of this art: the beginning of the poem is starting to fade by the time he reaches the end.

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After getting out to a wooded valley north-west of the city we walked through a forest of pine trees, towards a tall face of karst limestone.

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To be honest I was more interested in the ecosystem around me than the vertical monkey business.  This red-flowering tree was growing in the understorey of the pines, especially towards the edge of the forest where there was more light coming down.

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My Bosnian friend Hanna stops and enjoys the quiet of the place after a too long immersion in the city.

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We climbed up to the top of the steep hill beyond the rock face, and half way up looked down on the valley…

 

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As we climbed up to the ridge behind the cliffs, several hundred metres, we passed through maple and oak and looked down on a sea of hazy ridges and hills covered in forest off to the west.  I felt free of the city.

You can see what kind of rock it is here – its similar to the stuff you find all the way down in the south of Thailand – karst limestone.

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Which makes me think of Auden strangely enough…

Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places

-‘In Praise of Limestone’, by W. H. Auden

This week I’ve been back trying to teach critical thinking and academic skills to Chinese undergraduates.  Yesterday, after class, I needed a break.  I’d spotted an area of green vegetation to the east of a mountain near my campus on satellite imagery soon after arriving in China. I and a friend took a scooter taxi – and 20 minutes later we were up a valley, away from the new Babylon of semi-empty highrises and highways, and amongst trees and bird song.  So good to flee Modern Development, and in just an airy few minutes on the back of a motorbike find ourselves along the wooded banks of a large water body, with the bushes and acacias and trees full of blossom. There is another China, one that is not a product of human culture, and I could hear it in the voices of unknown birds around me in the evening sunshine.

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